Rep. Beto O’Rourke announces he’ll challenge Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018

TX-Sen, TX-16: Confirming media reports from a few days ago, Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced on Friday that he would challenge GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in next year’s Senate race. O’Rourke’s move gives Democrats a plausible candidate who could conceivably put this race in play, but he faces exceptionally long odds in a solidly red and ginormously expensive state that hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since 1994—the longest such streak anywhere in the nation.

For O’Rourke to have any sort of chance, a whole lot of things that are out of his control would have to go his way. In particular, he’d need 2018 to turn into a massive anti-Trump wave that fires up Democrats in droves and keeps dismayed Republicans on the couch. But as David Beard points out in a thoughtful essay making the case for O’Rourke, the last time Republicans went into a midterm with a president as unpopular as Trump occupying the White House—that would be 2006—Democrats picked up Senate seats in states like Missouri and Montana, and even made Tennessee competitive.

Everyone knows how nasty a competitor Cruz is, though, and he’s more than capable of raising all the money he needs to. But Beard makes another good point: Cruz doesn’t have any experience winning a contested general election. While it feels like his unctuous, loathsome presence has haunted us forever, Cruz only has two races under his belt: last year’s failed presidential bid and his original run for Senate in 2012. That year, while he impressively knocked off the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate, he waltzed through November. He has zero experience actually appealing to a broader audience. Does he have it in him to moderate his image even a little bit?

There are also a lot of difficult things O’Rourke has to do that he does have control over. In particular, he’ll need a lot of money—$20 million to $30 million, at least. But does he have it in him to run a disciplined campaign filled with lots and lots of call time to donors? That’s far from clear. A compelling new profile of O’Rourke from the Texas Tribune‘s Abby Livingston highlights a number of the congressman’s quirky approaches to this race.

In particular, O’Rourke hasn’t hired any consultants or pollsters and says he has no desire to do so, citing repeated failures to win in Texas by people who have relied on such professionals. He also says that “I’m only going to do this if we can win,” yet at the same time, when asked how he can beat Cruz, he admits, “Tactically, strategically, I don’t know.” Those are rather contradictory thoughts.

Other details don’t help matters, either. From O’Rourke’s own telling, it appears that he didn’t even inform his wife before he publicly began mooting a Senate bid, and she’s not the only person in the dark: Few people in Texas politics know O’Rourke. As Livingston memorably puts it, O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso is “so remote it is in a separate time zone from the rest of the state. It is a shorter drive from his district to San Diego than to Beaumont,” near the border with Louisiana.

Painfully, even many of those Democrats who have heard of him don’t know how to pronounce his name properly, calling him “Bee-to” (it’s closer to “Betto”). And even the DSCC didn’t mention O’Rourke in their Friday newsletter, even though it was published after his formal kickoff.

There’s also the matter of Rep. Joaquin Castro, a fellow Democrat who, like O’Rourke, was also elected to the House in 2012. Castro has also been considering a run for Senate, and as word of O’Rourke’s pending announcement circulated, Castro reiterated that he’s still thinking about the race. A competitive statewide Democratic primary in Texas would certainly be interesting, but it would make the already daunting quest for rivers of cash even more intimidating.

Still, whatever O’Rourke’s chances may be, Democrats are fortunate to have someone in place who could take advantage of a total Republican implosion, should such a scenario unfold. And who knows? If Democrats can run the table and somehow defend all of their incumbents while picking up GOP-held seats in Nevada and Arizona, O’Rourke would give them that desperately needed shot at a third pickup to take back the Senate. It’s a triple bank-shot, but every once in a rare while, you actually sink one of those.

O’Rourke’s decision also opens up his safely blue seat in the 16th Congressional District. We’ll take a look at the potential field there in the next Digest.


NV-Sen: Rep. Dina Titus is so far the only big-name Democrat to openly consider challenging Republican Sen. Dean Heller in 2018, and according to the Las Vegas Sun, Titus said she will decide in the next few months. Although both state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford and wealthy businessman Stephen Cloobeck have been mentioned as possible Democratic candidates, Titus thought it was unlikely that either of them would run for Senate or governor next year. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson recently refused to rule out a Senate campaign, but few other Democrats have been willing to go on the record about running.


AL-Gov: We can add two more names to the list of Republicans who could reach a decision soon about whether to run for governor of this dark-red state in 2018. Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville says he has been on a “listening tour” around the state as he considers running and that he could reach a decision in the “next couple of weeks.” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle had reportedly been mulling a run, and he confirmed that interest by telling that he foresaw arriving at a decision by the end of April.

No Republicans have formally announced a campaign to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Robert Bentley, who himself might still face impeachment over a scandal, but several other Republicans are thinking about it. That includes Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh, state Auditor Jim Zeigler, state Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, and Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington. Additionally, twice-disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Rep. Bradley Byrne haven’t ruled it out.

CA-Gov: A new YouGov poll from UC Berkeley finds Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, leading the pack in next year’s top-two gubernatorial primary with 28 percent of the vote, while Republican businessman John Cox is in second with 18 percent. Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang, also both Democrats, take 11 and 8 percent respectively. A third of voters are still undecided, and there’s a lot of game left to be played (and money to be spent playing it). In particular, there’s still a decent chance that the general election could once again wind up being a Democrat-vs.-Democrat affair, just as 2016’s open-seat race to succeed Sen. Barbara Boxer was.

GA-Gov: Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp became the first major candidate for either party to formally announce a run for governor in 2018 to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Nathan Deal. Kemp has been in office since 2010 and has been on the front lines of trying to suppress votes as Georgia’s chief elections administrator. Kemp recently settled a voting rights lawsuit in February that alleged he wrongfully blocked the voter registrations of over 40,000 predominantly African-American voters.

Kemp almost certainly won’t have Team Red’s primary to himself. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is reportedly a likely candidate, while state Sen. Josh McKoon and former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland have previously said they’re considering too. There are also several other legislators and Republican officials who are reportedly interested in a bid.

IL-Gov, IL-13: State Sen. Andy Manar, who had been weighing a run for governor, announced on Friday that he would not join the race. While Manar was busy thinking about whether or not to challenge Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, though, the Democratic field quickly grew very crowded and now includes several notable names, a couple of whom are exceedingly wealthy. Manar did still have an advantage in that he represents a district in downstate Illinois, whereas almost all of the other credible contenders hail from Chicago, but evidently he decided that a gubernatorial bid wasn’t worth it.

But could he still seek a different sort of promotion? In early March, Manar didn’t rule out a bid against GOP Rep. Rodney Davis in the 13th Congressional District, and he’d be a very strong recruit for Team Blue. It’s not clear whether this option is still on the table, though. While Manar explicitly closed the door on the gubernatorial race, the statement he issued didn’t touch on a possible congressional run, so here’s hoping.

NM-Gov: On Friday, Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the endorsement of former longtime Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who served from 1983 to 2013. Lujan Grisham jumped into the race early to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, and she continues to consolidate high-profile support ahead of 2018’s primary. However, fellow Democratic state Sen. Joseph Cervantes is also in the race, while state Attorney General Hector Balderas, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales, former Univision executive Jeff Apodaca, and businessman Alan Webber are all considering running for Team Blue.


GA-06: Yep, it turns out that Republicans really are afraid that Jon Ossoff could win the April 18 special election primary without a runoff. On Thursday, a couple of articles surfaced (one from Politico, the other from CNN) citing GOP fears that Ossoff might deliver a first-round knockout, but the skeptical side of us wondered if Republicans were just trying to juke the expectations game in the hopes of deflating progressive enthusiasm in the event Ossoff isn’t able to clear 50 percent (which is still the most likely outcome).

But we were giving them too much credit, because on Friday, Republicans proved how nervous they are by actually spending money on new ads designed to forestall what has become their ultimate nightmare scenario. Both of the spots are pretty weird, though, each in their own way.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has spent over $2 million attacking Ossoff, has decided that he’s no longer an unready frat house Han Solo but rather the would-be leader of a revolutionary movement ready to burn the country to the ground. Indeed, their ad features footage of anarchist dipshits trashing Washington, DC ahead of the inauguration while scary music plays and an anxious narrator declares, “Jon Ossoff is one of them. Ossoff will vote with Nancy Pelosi for more spending, bigger government, and a weaker military.” But will the highly educated, Republican-leaning but anti-Trump voters in this district that Ossoff is relying on to put him over the top really cotton to this sort of hysterical message?

Meanwhile, the NRCC is in an even deeper fix. Because they’ve been leery of taking sides in the primary, they’re reduced to begging people to come out and literally “vote Republican for Congress”—any Republican! doesn’t matter!—to keep Ossoff under 50. Not that their ad mentions Ossoff, but they do claim Democrats “are trying to stop our Republican majority that’s getting things done.” Hoo boy is that a tough sell. What’s more, the spot features footage of Trump gesticulating madly. As we’ve noted ad nauseam, this is not a very Trumpy district at all, but is the NRCC desperate to motivate the GOP’s pro-Trump base? That’s a terrible sign in and of itself.

There’s no word on the size of the NRCC’s buy, but according to CNN, the committee is also sending five field staffers into the district, to join six already there from the RNC (a number that’s set to go up to 15). CLF is also running its own field program, reportedly with 90 staffers. That’s a lot of bodies—and money—to throw at this problem. Someone’s getting panicked.

FL-18: Republican Rep. Brian Mast won his first term in 2016 against a well-funded Democratic opponent by a rather comfortable 54-43 spread, while Donald Trump prevailed in the 18th District by a similar 53-44 margin. However, that doesn’t seem to be stopping Democrats from trying to target this seat in 2018, which is located north of West Palm Beach and was represented by Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy until he unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2016. The latest name to arise via Roll Call’s Simone Pathé as a possible challenger to Mast is attorney Jonathan Chane, who lost the Democratic primary for the open seat in 2016. However, it’s unclear if Chane himself is interested in another campaign.

KS-04: Either Republican Ron Estes is very unworried about the April 11special election for Kansas’ 4th Congressional District, or he’s dangerously lazy. The candidates, who were both chosen at party conventions in early February, both just filed reports with the FEC detailing their fundraising through March 22, and Estes, the current state treasurer, had raised only $283,000 by that date. That wasn’t much more than his Democratic opponent, attorney James Thompson, took in during the same timeframe: $252,000. Both Estes and Thompson have also spent similar amounts, leaving them with around $110,000 apiece for the stretch run.

In all likelihood, though, Estes has little to fear despite his soft haul, given how red this district is (it voted 60-33 for Trump). However, he still felt it necessary to run a TV ad attacking Thompson (albeit not by name) in which he literally stands in a swamp wearing waders—bedecked with a “Ron Estes” bumper sticker!—and stiffly complains that “liberal activists are trying to steal this election by supporting the Bernie Sanders-backed lawyer because they know he will vote the way Pelosi tells him to” as snakes slither on-screen. Subtle.

Thompson also has an ad out, but it’s a positive biographical spot in which he discusses his impoverished upbringing and his service in the Army. He also speaks about fighting for veterans, working families, and “our personal freedoms” as he’s shown shooting a rifle. The only jab at Estes appears in text on-screen, about his refusal to appear at a debate. But while Thompson may be the target of Estes’ barbs, Estes is probably just playing it safe. If Republicans were really worried, they’d mobilize the cavalry—like they are in Georgia.

Grab Bag

Maps: Decision Desk HQ has put together a mesmerizing national map of the 2016 presidential election results by precinct for all 50 states plus D.C. They also mapped the 2008 and 2012 results by precinct, allowing them to illustrate the swing from 2012 to 2016. Their precinct-level details reveal what many election observers likely already know: Hillary Clinton did especially well in major cities and rural areas with large black, Latino, and Native American populations, while Donald Trump dominated in regions that are heavily white and rural.

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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